May 14, 2018

Identify the Bottom-Line Conflicts Holding You Back

2 men in a boxing ring in suits, decorativeMy first roommate at college, Janet, was finishing her last semester before graduating. For Janet, every day was about endings and leaving the university.

In contrast, I was the enthused newbie.

We started congenially, but as the semester progressed our friendship grew thin.

Like Janet and my senior-freshman struggle, conflicts are inherent in nonprofit organizations, except these conflicts aren’t over in a semester. They’re eternal.

In what way are goal conflicts baked into the system? Nonprofits seek three bottom lines: mission, community, and money, unlike governments and businesses that seek a single bottom line (votes and profit, respectively.) Seeking three results at the same time leads to confusion. And if you’re not careful, when you confuse you lose.

Since goal conflicts come with the territory, you need skills to manage them. What happens if you lack or don’t use these skills? Stagnation. Lost revenue.

Bottom-line conflicts lie at the epicenter of nearly all nonprofits who get stuck.

Use “Name and Reframe” to Turn Bottom-line Conflicts into Wins

In my Trusted Advisor Program, I find that by helping CEOs to name conflicts, they make tremendous progress on challenges that previously stumped them. Why? Named conflicts lose their mystery and  their power. They gain portability. Portability allows you to move problems from their current context into new ones or reframe them so you can play as you thinking about solutions.

By classifying conflicts, CEOs stop their boards, staff and supporters cease working at cross-purposes. Labels help people to discuss fears, identify risks, and explore ways to reduce them. Reframing allows you to ask this mind-opening question: how can we move toward all three bottom-lines simultaneously?

In the chart below, you’ll find three critical, common, and expensive nonprofit conflicts, provide an example and a reframing question.

Conflict Example Reframing Question
Mission and Money vs. Community A donor gives $2,000,000; success securing other donations decreases. How might you use the donor’s gift to grow your community?
Money and Community vs. Mission Your full event calendar leaves everyone with minimal energy for improving mission results. Which events can you tweak so they offer opportunities to grow your mission and the community and revenue?
Mission and Community vs. Money Almost all your efforts go toward your mission. This investment results in ongoing revenue shortages. How can you re-think how you do your mission today to enhance your revenue streams tomorrow?

Your Challenge

Identify your slow or stalled income growth efforts. What role do bottom-line conflicts play? Name the friction or conflict. As you do, watch for shifts in your thinking. Jot me a note and let me know what you discover.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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